What is the Honor 7?

The Honor 7 is the latest smartphone from Huawei’s spin-off company Honor. The £250 handset follows a trend set by OnePlus in that it aims to offer buyers top-end specifications and features traditionally seen on smartphones that are close to twice the price.

From purely a hardware perspective the Honor 7 achieves this goal and, despite featuring Huawei’s dire Emotion UI skin, is a solid smartphone that offers good value for money.

Honor 7 – Design

143 x 72 x 8.5mm, 157g, fingerprint scanner, nano-SIM, microSD

Honor made a big deal about the Honor 7’s design at the phone’s London launch. Specifically, the firm made a song and dance about the fact that, unlike most smartphones in the £200-£300 price category, the Honor 7 features a “sand-blasted” metal backplate.

The plate wraps around the phone’s sides and makes the Honor 7 feel more solidly built than its key rivals: the OnePlus 2 and Moto X Play.

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Honor 7

The Honor 7’s sturdy build is aided by the phone’s Sapphire Crystal camera lens, which helps protect the sensor from scratches. However, the phone’s premium feel is slightly let down by the addition of plastic along the top and bottom edges.

From a distance it doesn't look too bad, since the plastic panels are designed to look like metal and feature a textured finish. Up close, however, they destroy the illusion that the Honor 7 is a top-end _phone_ as they look bolted on.

To be fair to Honor, though, the design still feels reasonably premium. However, I personally prefer the look and feel of the OnePlus 2, which features metal sides and a polycarbonate, textured backplate.

I was impressed with the Honor 7’s custom smart key and rear fingerprint scanner. The smart key is a physical button on the phone’s side that can be configured to open specific applications or services when pressed.

While this may sound insignificant, I found the ability to customise the button’s function useful. For example, during a press event where I had back-to-back interviews, I was able to set the button to activate a dictaphone app.

At a basic level the Honor 7’s fingerprint scanner offers the same functionality as that of most smartphones. Sitting on the phone’s rear, it lets you set the Honor 7 to unlock or approve certain actions only once its holder has proven their identity.

However, Honor has also loaded a few extra functions onto the scanner to make it more useful. For example, once unlocked, a swipe down on the rear scanner pulls down Android’s notification, while a swipe left or right in the photo app lets you scroll through captured images.

Also welcome is the inclusion of a microSD card slot, which enables users to add a further 128GB of storage to the Honor 7’s built-in 16GB of space.

Honor 7 – Display

5.2in, IPS-NEO Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 424ppi touchscreen

The display techonology is often the first features potential smartphone buyers notice about a handset. Aware of this, the Honor 7 comes loaded with an impressive 5.2in panel. With a resolution of 1,920 x 1080, the IPS-NEO Full HD touchscreen offers a pixel density of 424ppi.

This almost puts the Honor 7 on a par with its key rival, the OnePlus 2, which features a 5.5in, 1920 x 1080, 401ppi pixel density display. However, in real-world use, I found that the Honor 7’s display performs better than most smartphones in its price range – and this includes the OnePlus 2.

Honor 7

The Honor 7’s screen brightness is significantly higher than any sub-£200 smartphone I’ve used, and it made the OnePlus 2 look outright dull. In fact, it was so bright that I found myself regularly having to turn off its auto setting and manually lower the brightness.

Colours, while slightly oversaturated, are also satisfying: the RGB calibration is decent, and so makes them look reasonably realistic. Contrast levels are also superb. Overall, I’m impressed with the Honor 7’s screen.

Compared to the OnePlus 2, the Honor 7's representation of white, too, is noticeably cleaner. Viewing angles are better than the OnePlus 2 as well, which is probably down to the Honor 7's inclusion of IPS-Neo technology.

IPS-Neo is a variation of the regular IPS screen technology seen on many smartphones, such as the OnePlus 2.

It aims to improve screens’ viewing angles and contrast ratio using a special form liquid crystal, which can be uniformly aligned on a display’s glass substrate. This helps to eliminates any potential unevenness in the tech’s circuit pattern that may hamper performance.

Honor 7 – Software

Android 5.0 Lollipop with Emotion UI 3.1

When Huawei created Honor, it made no secret that the move was designed to help it tailor its mobile offering to target specific segments and regions of the mobile market.

This was a big deal: although Huawei has a strong track record creating competitively priced, well-specced handsets, its history with software is a mixed bag.

Traditionally, Huawei has loaded its phones with a heavy Android skin called Emotion UI, which heavily caters to the Chinese market. The skin is generally viewed negatively and adds a number of superfluous applications.

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Honor 7

It also radically changes the operating system’s native UI to make it look like the mongrel child of iOS and Android – key offences here include re-making the notifications menu and removing Android’s native app tray.

Emotion also adds a few odd features to Android. The worst of which are Huawei’s “Groufie” and Beauty photo modes.

On paper, the Groufie mode is actually fairly useful – it’s basically a panorama shot mode for the front camera. However, it winds no points for its name, with it sounding a little too much like “groupie” or “roofie” – a fact picked up on by many internet trolls.

The Beauty mode is a bizarre photo option that increases the size of users’ eyes and makes their skin tone flatter and paler.

Being a fairly pale Scot with blond hair, this mode resulted in turning me into Gollum from Lord of the Rings, rather than a dashing Prince Charming.

As a result, I’m a little disappointed to see the skin on the Honor 7. It makes the handset feel significantly less intuitive to use than key rivals, such as the Motorola Moto X Play – which runs a close to untouched version of Android Lollipop.

The skin will also hamper the phone’s ability to be upgraded to the final version of Android M later this year. This is because Huawei will have to rework Emotion’s code to work with the new version, something that can take months.

That said, I did notice a few useful software additions on the Honor 7, the best of which are its motion control and voice wake-up features.

Honor 7

The motion controls let you set the Honor 7 to do things such as flip the _phone_ to mute it, tilt the screen to move app icons, and answer incoming calls by holding the Honor 7 next to your ear.

Voice wake-up is a particularly useful feature that lets you enact a variety of actions using spoken commands. These include such features as getting the phone to ring when you can’t find it, or phoning specific contacts simply by saying “dear” and an assigned name for the Honor 7.

I found find my lost phone feature particularly useful – although, be warned: you need to pick the Honor 7’s name carefully. On one particularly embarrassing morning when I’d overslept and couldn’t find my phone, my flatmate was woken up to frenzied cries of “dear [expletive deleted]” – which he didn’t appreciate.

Honor 7 – Performance

2.2GHz, octa-core, 64-bit, HiSilicon Kirin 935 CPU, Mali-T628MP4 GPU

The Honor 7 comes loaded with Huawei’s octa-core, 64-bit, HiSilicon Kirin 935 CPU, a Mali-T628MP4 GPU and 3GB of RAM.

For the price, the Honor 7’s specifications are pretty impressive. By comparison the OnePlus 2 features a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 CPU, Adreno 430 GPU and either 3GB or 4GB of RAM.

Running the Honor 7 through our standard set of benchmark tests, the phone performed admirably. On Geekbench the Honor 7 ran in with a reasonable 3,569 multi-core score.

Interestingly, in 3DMark’s gaming-focused Ice Storm Unlimited test the Honor 7 scored only 12,331.

Honor 7

By comparison, the 3GB OnePlus 2 scored 4,460 on Geekbench and 22,549 in 3DMark. A lower GPU test score is a regular issue with most Huawei phones. In real-world use, however, I found the Honor 7 offers decent performance.

Running on 4G and Wi-Fi, web pages opened in milliseconds and video streamed seamlessly. The Honor 7 also proved capable of running 3D games: the likes of Grand Theft Auto 3, Dead Space and The Bard’s Tale chug along stutter free.

That said, the phone displays a tendency to heat up and slightly throttle performance when faced with ongoing demanding tasks. This became evident when I tried to stream a couple of two-hour movies on Netflix.

However, this is an issue I see on the majority of smartphones. On the whole, and for the money, the Honor 7's performance is excellent.

Honor 7 – Camera

Rear: 20-megapixel, 5,152 x 3,888 resolution, with dual-LED flash and Sapphire Lens. Front: 8-megapixel, 3,264 x 2448 resolution

Camera technology is an increasingly competitive area in the smartphone industry. Motorola set the standard for affordable smartphones earlier this year when it released its stellar third-generation Moto G.

Featuring similar specifications to the Nexus 6, which costs close to three times as much, the Moto G (2015) is one of the best affordable camera-phones on the market.

The OnePlus 2 also boasts pretty impressive camera specs for its price, loaded with a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front option.

Aware of it’s stiff competition, the Honor 7 comes with an impressive 20-megapixel rear camera and a 8-megapixel front-facing unit. In a bid to further improve the Honor 7’s photo-taking ability, Honor has also included a custom camera app, which adds a variety of new shot modes, controls and filters.

I was impressed with the Honor 7’s performance when shooting with the camera set to auto. Honor claims the rear camera boasts focus speeds of 0.1 seconds, and having thoroughly tested the Honor 7, I can say this is true.

The camera features Sonic the Hedgehog-level shutter and autofocus speeds. Images caught in the automatic mode universally looked crisp, displayed decent contrast and colour balance levels and were more than good enough for sharing on social media.

Honor 7
Honor 7

From a techinical perspective, there's one negative to the Honor 7’s camera: the lack of optical image stabilsation (OIS). This is one key bit of tech that its rival, the OnePlus 2, has seen fit to include. OIS improves a camera’s low-light performance by compensating for and reducing the impact of minor hand movements, or vibrations.

Running the two head to head, I found shots taken on the Honor 7 in regular light featured slightly more realistic colours. The OnePlus 2's camera performed better in low light, however.

Honor 7

Taken on the Honor 7

One Plus 2 test shot

Taken on the OnePlus 2

The Honor 7 also offers an impressive number of preset modes. While some, such as the Beauty mode mentioned earlier and “good food” – yes, you read that right: the Honor 7 has a camera mode specifically for photographing your dinner – are fairly useless, others are pretty cool.

One of the best is the camera’s light-painting mode. Light painting is a custom feature designed to create artistic shots in specific low-light conditions. These include “car light trails”, “light graffiti”, “silky water” and “star track” settings.

The settings instruct the camera to continue shooting until the user manually stops and create artistic photos that track and display moving light. The resulting effects look similar to an extended exposure photo shot taken with a DSLR.

While the feature sounds gimmicky, I found it entertaining to use and was fairly pleased with the shots I could create using it.

Honor 7

My only issue with the Honor 7 camera is the software's terrible UI, which hides a number of useful features.

For example, while the camera offers manual controls for key features, such as ISO, white balance, exposure, saturation, contrast and brightness, they’re hidden away in sub-menus.

Accessing them requires you to click through multiple menu screens, which is time-consuming and clunky. These features would be better included as a pull-out menu in the main camera UI – as seen in the LG G4’s camera app.

Honor 7 – Battery

Non-removable 3,100mAh battery with fast charging

Battery life is another key issue hampering the Honor 7’s overall performance. In a test where we looped a 720p video with the Wi-Fi turned off and the screen brightness set to 75%, the Honor 7 lasted an average of seven to eight hours.

This puts it below most other handsets, which generally lasted between eight and nine in the same test.

In real-world use, the lower than average burn rate was evident. Honor claims the battery will last at least two days from a single charge. Using the Honor 7 as my main phone, it never once lived up to this claim.

Honor 7

In regular use the Honor 7 lasted between a day and a day and a half off one charge.

Regular use entailed listening to music on the way to and from work, checking email and social media feeds, sporadically browsing the web, making and taking a few calls and playing a few levels of a Warhammer Quest.

With more intensive use, however, the Honor 7’s battery can be defeated in a matter of hours. Steaming Netflix videos with the Wi-Fi turned on and the screen brightness set to auto, the Honor 7 struggled to last more than four hours.

Gaming sessions also put a serious drain on the battery – playing games such as The Banner Saga, Shadowrun and Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition resulted in the Honor 7 losing between 20-to-30% of its charge per hour.

On the flip side, the Honor 7 does feature fast charging and a power saver. Fast charging means the Honor 7’s battery can be topped up in less than an hour – with the right cable.

The power saver is a useful feature that lets you control which applications are consuming power and manage items such as the CPU’s performance to save battery – similar to the way you can on a Windows PC. This will enable you to extend the Honor 7’s battery life – but by reducing performance.

Honor 7 – Sound and Call Quality

The Honor 7’s speaker is on a par with most smartphones. It has a reasonable maximum volume, but sounds slightly tinny and features a fairly weak low end. Cranked to its maximum volume the speaker also begins to distort slightly.

All-in-all this means that, like most smartphones, the speaker is good enough for watching TV on Netflix and for gaming, but it isn't great for playing music.

However, call quality was impressive. Taking and making calls in busy coffee shops, loud London streets and busy bars, weren't an issue at all – they remained audible and the microphone proved powerful to ensure people on the other end of the line could hear me.

Honor 7

Should I buy an Honor 7?

The Honor 7 is a well-built smartphone that offers great value for money. However, its heavy Android skin and lower than average battery life diminish its overall appeal.

While it will meet most buyers’ needs, people interested in a great-value smartphone would do well to consider the OnePlus 2 – which targets the same market, has a better design and offers superior performance and battery life.

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Verdict

The Honor 7 is a great-value smartphone, but it's let down by poor software.

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